Tendai Shomyo Studies Society
I awaited the visit of Dai Sojo Ara Ryokan sensei and Dai Sojo Sakamoto Kanko's Shomyo society with a sense of ambivalence, filled with both excitement and nerves. As the Shomyo group were set to arrive in Sydney on the morning of the 1st October, it was organised that Jiryo sensei and I were to meet Ara sensei the evening prior, for some light conversation before the rigours of the morrow began.
After the initial greetings were given, particularly large club sandwiches were served and informal chatter ensued. I was struck by the warmth and smile that seemed to permeate Ara sensei at all times. We often hear of individuals capable of capturing our attention, but seldom do we hear of or come in contact with those able to capture our hearts.
As the evening progressed two matters were emphasized extensively. Firstly, that I should take 'Shukke Tokudo' or Home-Leaving Ordination in December. I had been training with Jiryo sensei for a year and for the most part, the consensus at the Hawaii BetsuIn was that I proceed slowly in a step by step fashion, 'soro soro' as they say in Japanese. I of course was fine with this arrangement as it gave me ample time to acquire the necessary basics. Suddenly I was informed that I would take ordination in a month! Secondly, after ascertaining that I was a speaker of Japanese and a current student of Mandarin, Ara sensei requested repeatedly that I consider one day translating the 'Tendai San Daibu' or Three central Tendai texts...this would by no means be an easy endeavour. As I retired for the evening it struck me how directly yet subtlely Ara sensei had made clear the short and long term goals to which I should aspire. In moments such as these there are many lessons to be learned. Within an hour, Ara sensei's discussions encouraged me to accept things as they happen, in every moment. My reaction to simple conversation became a microcosm of the rest of my life.
The next morning brought further lessons as Ara sensei, Jiryo sensei and I assembled at the airport in anticipation for the arrival of Sakamoto sensei and his Shomyo students. As we waited, intially, Ara sensei sat in silence as if engrossed in thought. Suddenly, he turned to me and to my suprise informed me of his decision to change my Homyo(Buddhist name). "From now on I am changing your Homyo from Ryokai (containing the first character of Ara sensei's name) to 'Jikai'"(containing the first character of Jiryo sensei's Homyo)." I think it is best that Priest's in Australia should carry the same name so that a firm Australian Tendai tradition may be built". Not only did this abrupt name change symbolise a trust between Ara sensei and Jiryo sensei but it yet again brought me face to face with my inner 'Mara' (inner foibles). Yet again, Ara sensei had found a way to force me to learn from my reactions. On the surface I bowed and smiled, on the inside I descended into inner turmoil. I had become accustomed to my Homyo and took particular pride in being honoured with Ara sensei's name. But all at once it was as if Ara sensei had clicked his fingers and asked me to Stop and Look. I have been tasked with letting go of my original Homyo in the way I relinquished the supremacy of my birth name. I am brought face to face with my attachment to yet another 'thing' and given the option to 'cling' or 'let go'. I cannot help but be reminded of the many patriarchs who described their names as merely labels applied to their momentary existence.
With my mind in a flutter, the Shomyo group arrived and we all boarded a bus for Cowra. Cowra is roughly 400-500km from Sydney so it provided us all with the opportunity to talk informally and form the bonds that would serve us well for the days to come.
In Cowra Shomyo performances (singing chanting) were held at the Cowra War Cemetary, Japanese Gardens and R.S.L (Returned Service Leagure) club. At all, one could not help but be moved and I admit at times I struggled to hold back tears of respect. Just as Fudo Myo'O's sword, the voices of these monks seemed to cut through my distraction and require my attention in the moment. In the presence of such pious melody was no place for idle thought.
As we returned to Sydney for the last phase of the trip, It was clear that many deep bonds had formed between us all. The final performance was to be held at the Japan Foundation signifying the final day of an exhibition of Ara sensei's paintings there. Earlier in the day, Jiryo sensei and I met with Ara sensei over a pizza and some soft drink. As Jiryo sensei needed to return to his hotel in order to prepare for the evening ahead, It gave Ara sensei and I a moment alone in the midst of the hustle and bustle. From it I learn't many things. We discussed the meaning of the character 'Kan' or contemplation in detail, what differentiates Tendai Shikan from Zen Shikan Taza, and I was asked about how and where I had grown up. Throughout the conversation, it was not only about what was said but also, those things left unsaid, the 'Heart to Heart'. An expression that required no words or a silence that said more than words could.
The performance was, once again an enriching experience, over all too soon. At its conclusion, we retired to a room supplied by the Japan Foundation in order that we may change. As we changed, many of the monks began giving Jiryo sensei and I their 'tabi' (Japanese socks), 'zori' (Japanese thong-like shoes), fans, candles, incense and the like. I was myself humbled by the humility of these men. Aware that I am a student and that such items are not readily available in australia, they quite literally had given the shirts from their backs. I, a novice, in a country far from Japan's monastic politics had received personal priestly items from monks, many in senior positions. Truly humbling...true compassion sees no distinction...
Soon after, Ara sensei informed Jiryo sensei and I that we were required to help prepare Ara sensei's paintings for the trip to Japan. As we both hurried to ready our belongings, Ara sensei remarked more sternly this time: "Go help first!; you can deal with your belongings later!". SNAP! the very duty and essence of a Bodhisattva had been summed up in these simple words.
When we had finished preparing the paintings for transit, Ara sensei honoured us both with the gift of one of his paintings each. Perhaps in response to hesitation he had noticed in answers I had given in our earlier discussions, the painting given to me contained a maxim. It read: "We are all born crying. A long life is sure to have many tears. It rejuvinates the soul".
The following morning Jiryo sensei and I wished them all a safe trip and the whirlwind adventure came to an end. Is this not like life I wonder...
The experience was not only interesting and exciting but truly 'enlightening'. Being able to spend time with these men, having the privelage not just to see their performances but also the very human and warm side of these men was truly memorable. As my teachers Ara sensei and Jiryo sensei are apt to say, once the 'bells and whistles' are removed, the thing that really matters most, is the "Heart to Heart".
Reverend Jikai Dehn